Race and Nation: A Case Study of Taking Scholarship to the Public

AHA Session 251
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Martha Hodes, New York University

The presenters first acquaint historians with their highly successful experimental collaboration. The second half of the session challenges members of the audience to conceptualize similar collaborations in which their scholarship can mobilize students to publicize their research findings.

The Student Quest and the Media Blitz
Teresa Van Hoy, St. Mary's University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session invites historians to replicate a collaboration in which a monograph launched a student quest that provoked a media blitz, attracting a public historian who invited the students’ contributions to a public-facing digital collection, thereby institutionalizing both the scholarship and the students’ challenge to long-standing paradigms of race and nation.

The collaboration arose organically because a traditional history monograph inspired a 2,000-mile roundtrip road trip undertaken by 25 students on the eve of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The students sought to draw attention to the bitter conflicts of the mid-nineteenth century, in which expansionists invoking an increasingly racialized nationalism threatened an earlier solidarity among the U.S. and “sister Republics” of the Americas. The student mobilization prompted a media blitz that included the front page of the Wall Street Journal and NPR’s Morning Edition, soon spreading to Mexico where it scored thousands of hits. The press coverage alerted a public historian at a landmark historic site in Washington, D.C., who then invited the students' collaboration on a digital collection, thereby bringing the book’s findings to a wide public and educational audience.

David Hayes-Bautista, professor at UCLA, wrote the book, El Cinco de Mayo: An American tradition; Teresa Van Hoy, professor at St. Mary’s University led the student quest; and David McKenzie, Associate Director for Interpretive Resources at Ford’s Theatre, invited the students to contribute documents to Ford’s Theatre’s digital collection, “Remembering Lincoln.” The chair, Martha Hodes, is Professor of History at New York University, and the author most recently of Mourning Lincoln. The session presents this collaboration and discuss its possible replication for other scholars, teachers, and public historians. 

 Above all, the collaboration among Hayes-Bautista, Van Hoy’s students, and McKenzie exposes the politicized construction of race in the borderlands as Mexican-cum-Americans, originally classified as white, quickly suffered dispossession, violence, and ouster or subordination both as racial inferiors and as foreigners. Mexican Americans countered with an insistence on the importance of a political identity transcending race and nationality. They self-identified most often as Liberal in opposition to Conservative, but they were fundamentally defending the Republics of the Americas from all threats, notably from pro-monarchy, pro-expansionist, and pro-slavery advocates. Within that pan-Republican paradigm, Mexicans and Mexican Americans likewise fit Abraham Lincoln, as they did many prominent figures of the time including Victor Hugo.

 For the students, the project seeks restorative justice. They mobilized to expose the misbegotten racialized inferiority and foreignness that still stigmatizes Latinos. They did so by sharing Hayes-Bautista’s findings that Mexican Americans were defenders of the Union and the ideals of the Republic on which it was founded. The message that the first Republican President championed Mexico flared up in the news, then stayed lit thanks to the Ford’s Theatre digital collection. McKenzie’s subsequent training of the students in digital history tools extends their outreach still further.

The primary objective of this session is to "brainstorm" possible replications of this collaboration to serve other scholars, teachers, and digital history experts.

See more of: AHA Sessions